French Onion Burgers
Having a blog where I commit myself to delivering a new recipe every week requires some deep exploration and thinking to keep the content at least somewhat fresh. This mentality sends me on hunts for grilled goodies the world around with no corner too obscure to become fodder for the collection. In this pursuit, I often become blinded to the more common options sitting right in front of my nose, opting for items like Indian kati rolls over more simple things like sandwiches or hot dogs. So when I decided to make my last Meatwave a hamburger affair, at first I resigned myself to that translating to the production of no new recipes, but then I wised up and realized that burgers themselves are a treasure trove of content as my ideas for dressing them up are limitless. So I present to you what comes out of my head when I pivot to the classics done with a touch of Meatwave flare—French onion burgers.
The thought process that led me to these burgers began with French onion soup. In a normal winter, I'll make this beefy, slightly sweet soup a couple times since its heartiness and over-the-top cheesy crust is a true cold weather comfort. This winter, however, was oddly warm and I found myself outside more than in, leaving French onion soup a craving that went unfulfilled. So to get a little sampling of the flavors of this soup under outdoor weather conditions, I turned to developing it in burger form.
Caramelized onions are, obviously, central to the experience. They also happen to be some of my favorite things ever. So whenever I set off to make a recipe that incorporates them, I make way more than needed, hence a dutch oven full of onions for just a few burgers. I've tried all sorts of shortcuts for caramelized onions in the past and nothing compares to taking your time and making them right. This large pot of onions clocked in over an hour to first soften them, then develop fond and deglaze the pan over and over again until the onions were deep brown and bursting with sweetness. In small quantities, as the final recipe lays out, this process will take less time, but still plan a good 30 to 40 minutes for these to be done right.
French onion soup also has an herbal component, usually imparted by thyme which I throw into the pot while the stock is simmering. To get that piece of the equation into the burger, I turned to making an herb mayonnaise. You can certainly just mix whatever herbs you have on hand with store-bought mayo here, but I went the extra mile and made my own by creating the emulsion quickly first in the food processor.
Since I didn't want the herbs to be broken down completely, I then transferred the mayo to a bowl and whisked in chives, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. The end result was a pretty stellar mayo with a heavy, but not overpowering, herbal character.
Next came another important component—beef. A great beef stock makes a great French onion soup, so likewise, I wanted some great beefy burgers here. For that I turned to trusty chuck, whose high fat content both churns out well flavored and super juicy burgers.
I personally like to pick out my own pieces of chuck and grind them so I can be sure I'm getting enough fat into the mix. Grinding at home is totally not necessary and it's just easier to have your butcher do this for you if your not into having to send the meat through the grinder twice to get ideal fat distribution, then deal with awkward washing of the grinder and clean-up of beef splatters all over the kitchen.
Once I had the beef all ground, I formed 1/3lb patties, which I think are the most ideal size for the grill—big enough that they fill a bun and don't cook too fast, but not so big that they're a challenge to consume. A few tips I've learned over the years for the best burgers: First, don't overwork the meat, just form it until the patty holds its shape. This keeps the mixture coarse and tender and not overly chewy or gummy. Second, make a little dimple in the center with your thumb—this helps the burger keep its shape on the grill, avoiding the tendency for the beef to cease up into an awkward football shape.
On the grill, I cooked the patties over direct heat, flipping occasionally, until they were well seared and still fairly rare on the inside. Burgers are one meat I go by feel after having cooked them so often, but for best results, use an instant read thermometer and cook them until they hit 110°F in the center.
This is about 15°F shy of my desired medium-rare. The burgers will pick up the rest of the temperature after being moved to the cool side of a two-zone fire, topped with cheese—gruyere to satisfy the French onion soup theme in this case—and covered. By the time the cheese is sufficiently melted, the burger should be done.
For the bun, I'm usually a Martin's Potato Roll man and nothing else, but I thought the overall presence of this particular burger called for something a little more hearty. I chose brioche rolls here, buttering them up and then quickly toasting them before assembling the final burger.
And there you have it—what happens when you mix a backyard burger cookout with the desire for some French onion soup, and boy was this a glorious thing.
First I was presented with an incredibly juicy and beefy piece of ground meat. That alone is enough to make me swoon, but damn, those sweet French onions were a show stopper. Mix that with the sharp gruyere, herb mayo, and hearty brioche and it all came together to have the reminiscent flavor of French onion soup I was after. While nothing will replace the real thing, it felt pretty cool that winter this year meant being outside and coming up with grilled variations of things I normally cook during this season because they require hours of not setting a foot outside in the cold. It also felt good not digging for some "different" type of food in order to keep content fresh on the blog and instead basking in the glory of the backyard burger, which in itself is something that surely needs to be celebrated more often here at the Meatwave.
French Onion Burgers
- Yield 6 servings
- Prep 40 Minutes
- Cook 10 Minutes
- Total 50 Minutes
- For the Onions
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
- For the Herb Mayo
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 2lbs ground beef chuck, 80% lean
- 6oz Gruyere cheese, grated
- 6 brioche rolls, halved
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- To make the onions: Melt butter in a large heavy-bottomed stainless steel or enameled cast iron dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and bottom of saucepan is coated in a pale brown fond, about 15 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons water and deglaze pan by scraping with a wood spoon. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until another layer of fond has built up again, 3-5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons water and deglaze. Repeat process until onions are completely softened and a deep, dark brown, about 15 minutes morel. Season onions to taste with salt. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- To make the mayo: Place egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard, and garlic in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until ingredients are combined. With motor running, slowly drizzle in oil through feed tube. Transfer mayo to a medium bowl and whisk in chives, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
- Break off 1/3 pound of ground beef and gently shape into a patty, working the meat until it just holds together. Using your thumb, create a dimple in the middle of the burger. Repeat with remaining ground beef. Season patties liberally with salt and pepper.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place patties on hot side of grill and cook, flipping occasionally, until well charred and center of burgers register 110°F on an instant read thermometer inserted into center of patty. Move burgers to cool side of grill, top with cheese, cover, and continue to cook until cheese is melted and burgers register 125°F for medium rare or 135°F for medium. Transfer burgers to a plate.
- Butter cut sides of rolls and place on hot side of grill until toasted, about 1 minute. Transfer buns to a serving platter, spread each cut side with herb mayo, and top each with a patty and caramelized onions. Serve immediately.
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Peg Looks absolutely fabulous! Now I'm craving a burger.
Mary Can I just tell you... I've made this a million times already. In fact, I'm eating leftovers right now. It is so brilliant. Thank you for sharing this.